The Backstage Phantom

We already have trolls, perhaps we also have phantoms…tenor

I was introduced to Irving Goffman’s theory about a year ago. With my increasing Social Media activity the theory resonated with me.  In this theory, Goffman suggests that every person exists either on the front stage (performing for the world), or backstage (when the person is alone).  When the person is backstage they get to be themselves, setting down the burdens of maintaining expectations. For the introverts among us we get a much needed chance to recharge our depleted social batteries.

But, what happens when the backstage becomes infused with social media? The person responds to the outside world through text, voice, and video.  The cell phone only ever an arms-reach away… habit forcing him/her/them to pick it up with each ding, buzz, or light-up.  Insidiously the backstage becomes inseparable from the front!


So, what does a person do when their backstage time diminishes so drastically? I’ve seen two results.  One involves that person we all know, and often tolerate.  You know the one, he/she/they turn into a complete jerk online.  The other type of person develops a persona much like they would with any new group of people they regularly interact with, a sort of online framework – just another part to play on stage.  The first type could be lashing out in anger because they feel the pressure to engage, or, the scarier notion, this could be who they really are (a phantom of their true self).  What if instead of adopting a new face to interact in this new environment they instead are acting as if they really are still backstage?!

Perhaps a crazy concept, and it’s probably more likely that being a jerk is he/she/they decided (consciously, or unconsciously) to interact with the online world, but there’s always that nagging question – what if this is the real person? Am I really friends with that jerk?


Derrick Ferry


One thought on “The Backstage Phantom

  1. This is a really interesting theory! It has made me reflect on my online image and how I have presented myself in the past. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!


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